BURKE SHELLEY Goes to Great Gig in the Sky

Burke Shelley

Burke Shelly, bassist and vocalist with legendary Welsh power trio Budgie, has gone to the great gig in the sky.

News reached us last night of the passing of Burke Shelley, frontman with one of the most unique sounding metal bands.  A message appeared on social media stating:

It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my father, John Burke Shelley. He passed away this evening in his sleep at Heath Hospital in Cardiff, his birth town. He was 71 years old.
Please respect the family during this time.
With love,
His four children: Ela, Osian, Dimitri and Nathaniel.

I remember it like it was yesterday. A teenage me was sat in my bedroom listening to The Damned and my brother walked into the room. We got into a debate about music and he asked what I liked about the Damned. I said something along the lines of, “I like how fast and heavy they sound”. Or words to that effect. My brother then walked over to the stereo, lifted ‘Dammed Damned Damned’ off the turntable and put on some hippy looking album with a bird on the cover. “I’ll show you fast and heavy”, he muttered, and dropped the needle. We were only a few bars into ‘Breadfan’ by Budgie and I was sold. This welsh outfit were to join the very short list of heavy metal bands that were going to be allowed to infect my record collection. That was over forty years ago.

There was always something unique about Budgie. It was a mix of Tony Bourge’s unique guitar sound – I can’t put my finger on what was unique about it, it just was – Burke Shelley’s almost lead guitar like bass and his voice. I don’t normally go for that ‘soprano’ style, but with budgie it some how worked a dream, very similar to Geddy Lee from Rush.

Tracks with titles like ‘Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman’, ‘Napoleon Bonaparte one and Bonaparte two’ and ‘In the Grip of a Tyrefitter’s Hand’ were soon starting to fill up my shelves – much to the disapproval of my punk mates.

Formed in 1967 they were probably passed their ‘peak’ by the time I discovered them. They eventually split in 1988. Over the years there were several incarnations of the band with different line ups and names, including a Shelleyless version called Six Ton Budgie.

The Shelly incarnation of Budgie played sporadic one off gigs during 1995 and 96, then officially reformed in 1999 but left it till 2006 to release an album, the typically Budgie titled ‘You’re All Living in Cuckooland’. The band finally split in 2021.

They were massively influential to the metal scene. Metallica covered two of their songs, ‘Crash Course in Brain Surgery’ and the aforementioned ‘Breadfan’. They even inspired 21st century welsh power trio ‘The Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk’, who took their name from a song off their third album, and famously wrote a song about “Burke, is lurkin’, behind the curtain”.

The band were a one off and the fact that this punk is paying tribute to a heavy metal band should speak volumes. Unique is an oft over used word, but Budgie were indeed,  unique. And Burke was a major reason for that. He will be sadly missed around these parts.